End of Term Report 18/19 – Strikers
Friday, 24th May 2019 15:05 by Clive Whittingham
The fourth and final part of our annual end of season round up of individual players’ performances turns attention to QPR’s misfiring, mostly borrowed, attack.
10 – Ebere Eze B
At the start of this season, Ebere Eze had just turned 20 (birthday June 29) and had 40 professional appearances to his name in his entire career. Of those, 22 had come in League Two on loan at Wycombe, and 13 of them were from the bench. As far as starts at Championship level went, he had eight. Eight. Everything that follows is set in that context, as all judgements of how he did in his first full season of second tier football should be.
It was, inevitably, a season of peaks and troughs. There were some real highs, at home to Sheff Utd in August, away to Bolton and at home to Millwall in September, at home to Sheff Wed and Villa in October, away at Rotherham on one of the Championship’s archetypal “can he do it on a cold Tuesday night in…” when only a ridiculous save from Marek Rodak prevented him from winning the game for his team. On the big Villa Park stage on New Year’s Day he excelled, just as he had there last season, scoring a beautifully taken second goal.
That was one of four he managed from a season playing, by and large, off a main striker at ‘ten’. Two of them (Sheff Utd and Bolton) were absolute bangers, but that total is not enough really. There were four assists as well, including two glorious passes for Angel Rangel goals at Stoke – again, nice, but not really enough for a player in that position in future when perfectly justified excuses about age and lack of experience start to fade away.
There were also a series of particular low points. A lot of his poor marks coincided with team-wide collapses – West Brom A and Bristol City H a pair of fours, Swansea A where his casualness in his own area nearly cost a calamitous fourth goal – but he was also clearly tiring and waning somewhat towards the end of December when, actually, the rest of the side was playing well and winning games. Although his performance at Aston Villa was good, the ones either side of that were not - 6, 6, 5, 7, 6, 6, 5, 4. That a young player in his first Championship season was going to have a lull at some point was inevitable, that it came at the end of a Christmas period of five matches in a fortnight where he was asked to start every one of them even more so. Eze was ever present at the turn of the year, a big ask, and looked tired. Very QPR, you may say, of us to moan about Ian Holloway wildly rotating the young players in and out of the team and then criticising Steve McClaren for leaving one in every week regardless, but there is a lot of grey area between Paul Smyth scoring and winning man of the match against Sheff Wed on the Tuesday and then getting dropped altogether for the Saturday, and Ebere Eze being gently introduced to the rigours of Championship life by being asked to start the first 26 games of the season.
The reaction to these absolute cast iron inevitabilities of life and football was, at best, peculiar and, at worst, cruel and unfair. He has faced way over the top criticism at matches and on social media about attitude, ability and, most of all, a perceived laziness. I’ve found this odd. We have, and have had, players later into their 20s than Eze who have earned good money from QPR without ever playing any football, swanning around in flash cars and Instagram holidays, who nobody says anything about. Here’s a 20-year-old actually playing for the first team, trying his best, learning his trade, and we set upon him for a drop in form. We have a senior professional with more than a decade in the game under his belt, 37 caps for Israel, on loan from Premier League Brighton at considerable cost, phoning in a year’s loan for which he was either injured or blatantly not arsed, and nobody said a thing about it – McClaren called him “a warrior”. Eze gets abused for being lazy. It is just accepted with a shrug that Mass Luongo, 26 years old and 262 professional appearances, will come back from every international duty and be a bit shit for a couple of weeks, but Eze misplaces a couple of passes and the whole crowd is up. Joel Lynch, 31, getting on for 400 senior appearances, is allowed to make the same mistakes over and over again in games, is allowed to pop off for the Christmas fixtures every year, is allowed to clock off for the season in mid-April every year, and people roll their eyes and laugh and joke about it – Eze starts every single game in the first half of his first full season at this level and gets pelters when performances dip with tiredness through December. We go in at Brentford drawing 0-0 at half time, I leave my seat to go for a piss, literally the first thing I see and hear is some old codger announcing very loudly that Eze “isn’t doing enough”. How is that your first takeaway from that half? Watch it back and tell me. That was the afternoon that Ebere’s brother Ikechi was sat at the back of the away end in a group of three, listening to all the “lazy cunt” shouts from people who mostly can’t peer far enough over their bellies to see their own dicks.
The club has to shoulder a degree of responsibility for this. The hyping of young players must stop. Eze was everywhere last summer - every video, every podcast. Given the number ten shirt and announced as “our new number ten” when he scored a penalty in pre-season against Union Berlin. We have to cool it. Downplay everything. We’ve a perfect chance to show we’ve learnt from this with Ilias Chair, who like Eze has torn things up down in League Two on loan and will now hopefully comeback and be a useful player for us in the Championship. Don’t expect that though, don’t hype it, don’t raise expectations, let the boy come back and find his own way.
Whether that’s the reason for the excessive stick Eze has had or not, I don’t like it. I don’t like it because firstly, in my personal opinion, it’s not true. I’ve watched him every game he’s played for QPR so far and I don’t see a lazy player there. Sure, he’s no Jamie Mackie, but few are, or need to be. Who’s that dreadlocked boy I spy charging back half the length of the field to try and prevent Harry Wilson’s injury time second for Derby at Pride Park over Easter? An irrelevant goal, in a game already lost, scored (scandalously) in the 100th minute, but there’s Eze the only one desperately diving back across his own goal line to try and prevent it.
I don’t like it because we’re going to need at least a couple of these young boys to turn into Championship players for us or we’re going to be in trouble, and it’s not going to help them do that if the crowd is going to savage them at the first sign of a loss in form. Eze has had a perfectly acceptable season given his circumstances and given how poor the team was around him, but you’d never guess that listening to some. “But Clive, you drunkenly shout and bawl at the players as well,” yeh, fine, I’m a moron too, but even at my shameful, drunken worst I recognise the difference between screaming blue murder at some young kid finding his way in the game and some experienced pro on big money who’s old enough for us to expect better from. And let’s not even start on those that feel the need to copy the players into their abuse of them on social media.
I don’t like it because the criticism has not been equally dished out. Compared to Eze, a young player we own and are trying to develop, Hemed, a loan player we’ve paid through the nose for, got a fucking hall pass from the QPR crowd last season.
And I don’t like it because why in the name of God do we want our number ten tracking back down the field all the time anyway? Just to prove to everybody he is willing to work hard for the team? I’m not advocating an Adel Taarabt-level of work rate here (though if Eze starts scoring 20 and setting another 20 up I’d forgive it) and he needs to close down opposition defenders in possession but I don’t particularly want one of our flair attackers back in his own half bailing out the herberts back there. For me the problem wasn’t laziness and lack of tracking back, it was that we’ve spent so long drilling it into him that he’s got to do that and he’s not doing it enough that he actually started to do it too much. Look at the minute-long highlights of the Sheff Utd game I’ve embedded above, look how many problems he’s causing them around the edge of the penalty box, how many shots he’s having. Those sorts of performances dried up in the second half of the season, and that’s where we want him and what we want from him surely? Not doubling up on Jarrod Bowen because Lynch and Bidwell are too fucking crap to do it themselves. The goals and the assists, bar Villa away, all came in that early part of the season, when he was not only fresh but also focused on being an attacking threat. He should be encouraged to do more of that, not less. Four goals and four assists is not enough, that’s the main problem last season, not a lack of effort, running about or tracking back. Stay up there mate, do your thing.
It was a relief on Sheff Wed at the last day, where he started wide right, to see him once again taking players on, slaloming past opponents, having shots on goal, trying things, posing a threat, looking confident again. Of course, stupid boy subsequently took an all-too-casual penalty which was well saved by an in form goalkeeper, which is all his critics will remember of him in that game. Said critics need to wind it in a bit.
38 starts, 8 sub appearances, W16 D7 L21
4 goals (Sheff Utd H, Bolton A, Millwall H, Villa A), 4 assists (Ipswich A, Sheff Wed H, Stoke A, Stoke A)
2 yellow cards (Millwall H diving, Blackburn A foul)
1 LFW MOTM Award (Rotherham A), 2 supporter MOTM awards (Sheff Utd H, Millwall H)
LFW Ratings – 5, 7, 6, 4, 4, 6, 6, 7, 8, 5, 4, 6, 6, 6, 8, 8, 5, 6, 7, 7, 5, 6, 7, 6, 6, 5, 7, 6, 6, 5, 4, 6, 5, 5, 7, 6, 7, 5, 5, 7, 3, -, 5, -, 6, 7 = 5.863
Interactive Ratings – 5.74
16 – Tomer Hemed D
All of which leads me into this one, and you can probably see where it’s going.
A striker with a back-to-goal game and an ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play was a top priority for the club last summer. Not only because the 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations that Steve McClaren prefers to use really demand it, but also because it was pretty obvious to everybody that we were painfully short of quality in attack whoever the manager was and whatever system he was going to use. McClaren was keen to be reunited with his former Derby charge Chris Martin, who’s been slobbing around unsuccessful loans in patently poor shape for a couple of seasons now and eventually, mercifully, ended up at Hull instead – two goals in 31 appearances for the Tigers last season, quite the lucky escape that one turned out to be. Filed under why the manager shouldn’t be able to dictate his signings to the club in the modern game….
Eventually, at the eleventh hour, Tomer Hemed was procured from Brighton and initially everything looked good. He scored the only goal of the game, and was a pretty obvious choice as man of the match, as Rangers got a much needed first league win of the season at the fifth attempt against Wigan. He looked, both in body shape and style of play in that first game, a lot like Heidar Helguson, who’s just about the textbook example of what you want in the ‘one’ in a 4-2-3-1 at Championship level. Hemed, as we know, won promotion from this division with Brighton earlier in his career. But a couple of problems surfaced almost immediately.
Firstly, in a full on panic, QPR had brought in two Premier League strikers on loan, when they only needed one. For a brief while, in an attempt to crow-bar Hemed and Nahki Wells into the same team, the line-up reverted to a 4-4-2 with Freeman and Eze on the wings. It looked quite good for an hour, and won away from home (which is rare), at Bolton in September. However, as it turned out, clinging on to a 2-1 win against Bolton last season wasn’t much of a moral victory. That suited Hemed and Wells, but nobody else, and was quickly abandoned, meaning only one of them could start at a time. There’s nothing like a bit of forward planning, and this was nothing like a bit of forward planning.
Second problem, kindly put, Hemed didn’t look arsed. There are people working desk jobs at HMRC with more colour in their cheeks than this fella, and they probably cover more ground too. While all the focus was on whether Ebere Eze was working hard enough to live up to the hype, here was an experienced international footballer who we’d brought in at considerable expense to bail a manager out of a mess of his own creation turning in performances of 7, 6, 6, 5, 5, 4, 6 = 5.571 in his first seven games. Nobody said a thing about it. We are, the club, the support base, and for a while last season the manager, still absolutely in thrall to shiny new signings and big name players. You’ll still find people willing to say Joey Barton was a good player for us.
Some hope that maybe that was Hemed just getting up to speed was sprung in October, when he converted a smooth penalty (don’t sniff at that, the rest of the clowns in the QPR circus couldn’t manage it) at Ipswich and then scored again in the week against Sheff Wed. The team looked good, and Hemed appeared to be hitting his stride. Then, 6, 5, 5, -, 4, 5. Thanks to our own disastrous summer of transfer activity, we were in a situation where only one of our expensively assembled loan strikers could play, and as Nahki Wells hit form so it was he that took the starting berth. That particular headache was removed by Hemed disappearing for the winter, in excess of two months, with “a hernia problem”, leaving Wells to carry the fight.
He returned in early February, to a 21 gun salute from a manager suddenly nursing one win from seven games who declared him “a warrior”, and suggested the problems being encountered were in part due to Hemed’s absence. He played a minute of a 2-0 home win against Portsmouth and after that was involved in a run of LLLLWLDLDL. The impact of his return could, at best, be described as gradual.
At Bristol City in early February QPR were leading 1-0, and playing well, against a good team, when Hemed was introduced after 72 minutes for the man of the match, Matt Smith. City equalised after 73, with a goal that had been coming from Niclas Eliasson down a collapsed left side that in no way could be blamed on the introduction of Hemed, but over the course of the next 20 minutes he was complicit in the abject surrender of territory and possession as QPR went from clearly the best team in the game to desperately trying to cling to a point. He was so utterly pathetic it was the equivalent of playing with ten men, with zero outlet up front and a possession percentage in the attacking third akin to UKIP’s vote share at the European elections. City scored in injury time to win the game from a disgraceful piece of refereeing, but QPR had invited that problem onto themselves and Hemed was a big part of the reason why. Sure, he was just coming back from injury, but 20-year-old Ebere Eze hasn’t been afforded any concessions from fans this season, so why should the much more senior, much more experienced, much more expensive Hemed get a pass?
That Friday at home to Watford he was brought on with 20 minutes to go and QPR 1-0 down. Make no mistake, this was an enormous opportunity for Rangers. Deprived of any kind of cup run since 1997, with little to play for in the league, they’d been given a televised home tie in the fifth round against a Premier League team who, while very talented, were well off their usual pace on the night. The goal they led through was spawny, and the man Hemed replaced (Wells, more later) had missed several presentable chances. Offered one home game with Watford and another with Crystal Palace for a first FA Cup semi-final since 1982, the R’s sent on Hemed, and then Eze, and then Bright Osayi-Samuel, for a final assault that never came. It was a colossal missed opportunity. When I Tweeted afterwards that “McClaren couldn’t make a substitution to save his life”, it was written off as the drink talking. I was drunk. But I was right. From a team that regularly rescued points in the final few minutes of games in 2017/18, we’d become the team that conceded the most goals in injury time in the whole league in 2018/19 (eight).
He subsequently sprang from the bench against West Brom and actually looked decent. Won and scored an equalising penalty, troubled a nervous visiting defence, should have been on the winning team had Osayi-Samuel been able to finish his dinner. Rangers were desperately unlucky to lose that game, to an injury time goal scored by a player that shouldn’t have been on the pitch, after Luke Freeman had limped out injured with all the subs made. No matter, at least Hemed was fit and firing again. Nah. Not so much. There followed a performance at Middlesbrough that, honest to God, I’m very confident I could replicate using an old bit of wood fished out of the sea. And yes, the qualifier in all of this is that QPR is a difficult team to play for, and you have to be a real pugnacious and determined little git to make any kind of success of it while it’s in this state – Luke Freeman, emperor penguin. But, like I say, if you’re not willing to forgive Ebere Eze, with barely 50 senior career appearances to his name, then I’m not willing to wave away the failings of an enormously expensive, 31-year-old striker with 37 Israel caps.
His next significant summonsing came away at Brentford, where he missed a great chance late in a 3-0 defeat but people were too busy coating off Eze to notice. He played 72 minutes of the 2-1 home loss to Rotherham (their first win away at this level for three years) and didn’t trouble the scorers. His equalising goal at Hull, scored by falling over Josh Scowen’s hard work from a yard out against Liam Ridgwell who played like he’d just got back from a stag do, papered over cracks. His two goal salvo and exemplary performance against Swansea was brilliant, and every bit as random as that result.
I’m annoyed with the Hemed situation for a few of reasons. I’m annoyed because, as ranted on in the midfield review, Steve McClaren was brought in here specifically to coach the players we already have, not throw his arms up in the air after four games and demand he be handed signings the likes of which his predecessor could only have dreamed of. I’m annoyed because having caved into that demand, QPR then went way over the top and splashed out on four players when, at most, they needed Wells and Cameron – and actually I would argue they really only needed Wells. I’m annoyed because even when it was pretty clear that Hemed was, at best, half interested in playing for us, McClaren was still giving it the big ‘un about what a Rolls Royce player he was and what a huge difference he’d make to us, while completely ignoring half a dozen other players we actually own. Where was that sort of backing and praise and gametime for Osayi-Samuel, Smyth, Chair, Oteh, even Smith, Scowen? Players he was specifically brought here to get the most from and improve. “Well they’re not as good as Hemed”, you may bleat. Well, for all his “team of men” bluster, McClaren managed to get 20 league goals from his three strikers this season (Wells seven, Hemed seven, Smith six). Ian Holloway, a much maligned and criticised manager, got 24 from Smith (11), Sylla (seven) and Washington (six) the year before – a strike force we universally agreed was crap, and one McClaren refused to work with.
I don’t particularly blame Hemed, or hold any animosity towards him, for what was barely a phoned in token effort at representing our club. What, really, did we expect of a 32-year-old, well travelled, exceedingly rich, international footballer, coming to the end of his career? Sleeves rolled up? Muck into the Championship dog fight? It’s not likely is it? What concerns me more is this is the problem we’re going to have if we think the loan market is going to bail us out of this quagmire we’ve worked ourselves into. The days of popping up to the Premier League to loan Jimmy Smith and Michael Mancienne from Chelsea to dig you out of the shit are over. Even if you want to throw yourself down at the altar Richard Scudamore and Sky Sports built together, and basically become a B Team in all but name, it’s going to cost you.
Derby have Mason Mount on loan from Chelsea and Harry Wilson on loan from Liverpool and Frank Lampard is being lauded for the job he’s done there, squeaking into the play offs thanks to two incredibly inept penalty decisions in their favour in the final four games. Their (admittedly hilarious) semi-final victory against Leeds is being hailed as some sort of sporting underdog triumph for a young team by a broadcaster that needs you to keep subscribing. I’ve seen it said and written that Mount and Wilson are only there because they wanted to work with Frank. My arse. They’re there because Derby paid sky-high loan fees, and then sold their own stadium back to themselves to dodge FFP. They’d be playing for a Steve Cotterill-managed team in Mozambique if they stumped up the cash. It’s the same reason Tammy Abraham is at their final opponents, Aston Villa. Even to play in the loan game now will cost you an absolute fortune, and it’s all dead money unless they get you promoted, because you can never hope to keep them and you’ve got the same hole in your team to fill once they leave. I come back to the Sam Gallagher example again: promising player, yes; looked pretty good at Blackburn, yes; very Instagrammable with his shirt off, yes; but Birmingham City paid north of £4m just to loan that guy. It included not only his £10k a week wage but an additional £10k a week of their own for good measure – Gallagher scored seven times in 34 appearances for them, somewhere in the region of £571,000 a goal.
That’s the loan market for the players you want. To play in it in QPR’s current situation risks you ending up with the ones we got this season, who are either not arsed, or too old and injury prone to make a difference even if they wanted to. Hemed was an unhappy combination of both.
16 starts, 13 sub appearances, W7 D6 L13
7 goals (Wigan H, Ipswich A, Sheff Wed H, West Brom H, Hull A, Swansea H, Swansea H), 1 assist (West Brom H)
1 yellow card (Wigan H foul)
1 LFW MOTM award (Wigan H), 1 supporter MOTM award (Wigan H)
LFW Ratings – 7, 6, 6, 5, 5, 4, 6, 7, 7, 7, 6, 5, 5, -, 4, 5, 7, 4, -, 4, 4, 3, 7, 3, 8, 5, 5, 5 = 5.384
Interactive Ratings – 5.39
17 – Matt Smith C
Matt Smith does what he says on the tin, and in a season where he spent the vast majority of his time confined to the bench until the very latter stages of games that were already long gone he still ended up with eight goals, two assists and five man of the match awards.
Like Josh Scowen, he was a player who suited Ian Holloway and his style of play much more than he did Steve McClaren. Although he started game one at Preston and game three at West Brom, his role quickly became that of substitute of last resort. The times of his introduction tell their own story: 87, 85, 87, 88, 87, 70, 89, 89, 76, 89, 76, 73, 78, 88, 86, 89, 71 and 73. That’s every appearance he made in the league from the end of August up to and including the defeat at Sheff Utd on January 12. Frequently used simply to waste time, or slung on for stoppage time to defend opposition corners. Rarely brought on with enough time to make any impact, and when he did get more than ten minutes he’d often been brought on for a winger who could have supplied him. McClaren never really did seem to get to grips with the idea that despite his height, Smith isn’t that great with long, hopeful balls punted down the middle. Get it wide and get a good cross over and you get the goals he scored against Portsmouth, Bristol City, Blackburn and Sheff Wed, but more often than not it was Wszolek or somebody like that making way for him.
This, of course, culminated in the debacle at home to Bolton, when everybody knew McClaren’s time was up as the crowd went into open revolt at his decision to once again take the Polish winger off to get Smith on from the bench. McClaren invited us to believe that the fourth official had confused 23 with 22, and it was meant to be Angel Rangel going off all along, but that conveniently ignored that when 2-0 down at Brentford a couple of weeks prior, McClaren made exactly that Smith for Wszolek substitution there. In fact, of Smith’s substitute appearances to that point, he’d already come on for Wszolek on four previous occasions, and replaced Ebere Eze on a dozen others. McClaren frequently put Smith on in place of players who could supply him.
There was a period, around the turn of the year, with Hemed injured and results starting to slide, that Smith did become first choice again. He impressed as a goalscoring sub in the home debacle against Preston, and then again off the bench in a loss at Wigan a week later. McClaren cleverly juggled his team to catch League One Portsmouth out at Loftus Road in the FA Cup, with Smith starting and scoring a thunderbastard header that looked like it had been fired out of a cannon. Two goals followed in the aborted comeback against Birmingham and another to give Rangers the lead they carelessly squandered at Bristol City. When you play Smith and you play to Smith’s strengths, he scores you a goal – he has 22 for QPR despite only starting 43 games for the club.
But his inclusion rather necessitated the switch to 4-4-2, which as discussed in Hemed’s piece didn’t suit any of the midfielders, and also removed the extra protection from in front of our pathetically fragile back four. Even when he was starting and scoring, Rangers were losing, and his W3 D4 L22 record is the worst of any player this season. He returned to his previous use: 69, 77 and 62 in McClaren’s final three games in charge. John Eustace’s much more thoughtful, horse for a course approach to team selection saw Smith starting for the battle at Millwall in which he missed a really presentable headed chance to win the game but otherwise did well. He finished his season with a glorious volley, screaming into the roof of the net with the last kick of the final match at Sheff Wed. A limited and basic player, but an honest and hard working professional who can be brutally effective when serviced correctly and never lets us down even when he isn’t.
11 starts, 33 sub appearances, W3 D4 L22
8 goals (Bristol Rovers H, PNE H, Pompey H, Birmingham H, Birmingham H, Bristol City A, Blackburn H, Sheff Wed A), 2 assists (West Brom A, Hull H)
5 LFW MOTM awards (Wigan A, Pompey H, Birmingham H, Bristol City A, Blackburn H), 1 supporter MOTM award (Pompey H)
LFW Ratings – 4, 5, -, 3, 4, -, 6, -, -, -, -, 3, 3, -, -, 4, -, 5, 5, 5, -, -, -, 4, -, 5, 5, 6, 6, 8, 8, 7, 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 7, 6, 5, 6, 7 = 5.275
Interactive Ratings – 5.42
32 – Nahki Wells C
Awww Nahki, come here sweetheart, let me stroke your Lego hair.
There are some footballers who just feel like QPR players. You see them playing for other clubs and you can just picture them in the blue and white hoops. Charlie Austin and Matt Phillips were like that at Swindon and Wycombe, Luke Freeman at Stevenage and then Bristol City, Martin Rowlands at Brentford. We don’t always get them, and they don’t always work out – I was keener on Jordon Mutch than Jordon Mutch’s mum was – but to get Nahki Wells down here in our present state felt like a classic of that genre and a big coup for the club.
Nahki Wells who we should have been looking at when he was at Bradford but we were too busy giving it the Bertie big potatoes routine. Nahki Wells who’d subsequently got promoted to the Premier League with Huddersfield. Fucking Huddersfield, I mean for goodness sake. Nahki Wells who’d already scored three times at Loftus Road previously, all smooth movement and crisp finishing. And yet here he was, just as we were supposed to be skint, more accents than an Alistair McGowan video, glancing over a hooped shoulder and winking straight down the lens of the QPR official website. Don’t worry lads, I got this. Oh my God I had a two day hard on.
He quickly won out in a battle (stretching the definition there somewhat) with Tomer Hemed to be the lone striker, once the idea of a 4-4-2 had been ditched. Initially there were assists, at Bolton and at home to Millwall and Derby, but no goals. Ah Christ, I thought, this is going to be one of those things where he gets to the end of his loan still having scored more goals at Loftus Road for Huddersfield than he has for us isn’t it? Well, no, not quite, though it did take ten games for a first goal, and that stat did endure until his fifteenth appearance away at Rotherham. It clearly played on his mind, as a celebration of pure release betrayed when he belted his first for the club into the far corner with no back lift at home to Sheff Wed, but it didn’t necessarily matter. At home to Millwall, for instance, there was no goal, but he was man of the match in that game by a street. Playing up front alone, against a notoriously physical defence, he twisted the blood of two centre backs by himself, dropping short to hold the ball up and use it intelligently, running in behind to pose a goal threat, and spinning off into channels to create space and chances for others. Remember when we used to say it was unfair on Conor Washington to expect a man of his physical stature to play as a lone striker? Well here was a point by point lesson in how it’s done from a fellow midget.
Goals followed. Against Sheff Wed, Brentford, Boro and Ipswich at Loftus Road, Rotherham and, gloriously, Leeds away from home. His technique of opening up his body and searching out the far corner, either corner with either foot, was delicious. I’d have done anything to keep him. Anything.
Then something happened. Wells, like the team as a whole, struggled badly in the second half of the season, though while the team went downhill, the Bermudian international dropped off the side of a cliff. A missed penalty in the final minute of the Birmingham home game, which would have written him into the QPR history books as the goalscorer who completed a comeback from 4-0 down, seemed to effect him badly. No shit, my innards still recoil now thinking about that moment five months on and I was only watching it, imagine being the perpetrator. He’d missed sitters earlier in that game too, and much like the team as a whole he started to mix rank bad luck with gross incompetency. At Bristol City that Tuesday he angled his back superbly to guide a Jake Bidwell cross onto the inside of the post. A goal for all money, and a good one at that, but somehow the ball came back into play and the credit for the tap in went to Matt Smith. Against Watford in the FA Cup, his first half misses, snatching at good chances, were a big part of the reason QPR failed to take advantage of a huge opportunity in that competition. And so this continued, against West Brom, against Brentford, against Stoke and up at Middlesbrough where he came off the bench for the final ten minutes, did that opening up of his body thing, went searching for the far corner, and this time found only Darren Randolph. Confidence wasn’t so much draining away as flooding out of him in a torrent. You could see it in his eyes, winking long since abandoned.
There was a well crafted and taken goal against Bolton, but it was a consolation strike on a desperate day that ended Steve McClaren’s reign as manager. To this point I couldn’t fault him for effort, it was just a player losing form. QPR, as we’ve said, is a difficult club and team to play for and it had broken him. It’s why we’re not allowed nice things. But by the end, even that bit of his copy book was blotted. In a home defeat to Blackburn he came on in the second half, contributed a couple of bad misses, and finished up petulantly booting one of theirs up in the air for a yellow card. Against Forest at home he was even worse, carelessly bashing two very good chances for an equaliser high over the bar and then selfishly insisting on being allowed to take another late penalty which was, once again, easily saved and secured a club record eleventh home defeat of the season. It was Wells’ fifth penalty miss in a row, and he should have been nowhere near it.
He left diplomatically saying he’d enjoyed his time at the club, but hadn’t been able to produce his best football. And I’m fucking heartbroken about it.
35 starts, 8 sub appearances, W13 D10 L19
9 goals (Sheff Wed H, Brentford H, Rotherham A, Leeds A, Boro H, Ipswich H, Pompey A, Pompey H, Bolton H), 8 assists (Bolton A, Millwall H, Derby H, Brentford H, Ipswich H, Birmingham H, Bristol City A, West Brom H)
4 yellow cards (Swansea A foul, Brentford H foul, Leeds H kicking ball away, Blackburn H foul)
2 LFW MOTM awards (Millwall H, Boro H), 2 supporter MOTM awards (Boro H, Pompey A)
LFW Ratings – 7, 6, 7, 8, 6, 5, 7, 6, 6, 7, 7, 5, 7, 6, 6, 5, 6, 8, 6, 8, 6, 7, 5, 5, 6, 5, 7, 5, 5, 5, 5, -, 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 3, 6, 4, 5, 3 = 5.785
Interactive Ratings – 5.87
Others Right, tears wiped away, let’s crack on because there’s loads and loads and loads of these.
Idrissa Sylla almost equalised in the final minute of the first game of the season up at Preston but for a great save from Declan Rudd, but he was never a Steve McClaren player from the moment the manager walked through the door and was swiftly shifted back to the continent at a financial loss. He finished with 17 goals from 28 starts and 33 sub appearances. Would we have been any worse off keeping him and not loaning Hemed? The numbers say not.
Conor Washington was also paid up and released at a considerable loss back in August, and remarkably subsequently got another Championship gig at Sheff Utd who won promotion. Not that Washington had much part in it, bar a typically anaemic and forlorn display in a rare start for an FA Cup upset at home to Barnet. He finished with 14 goals in 63 starts and 35 sub appearances – a spell neatly summed up by Matt Smith getting in the way of a goalbound shot in his final QPR appearance at home to Peterborough in the League Cup. Lethal combo of not very good and not very lucky.
Paul Smyth was another written off by the manager very early doors, though in his case it’s much harder to see why. After 24 minutes at Preston and 45 at home to Sheff Utd (where he was poor, to be fair) he was ditched entirely, getting just six minutes of league action in the whole rest of the season for QPR. He went on loan to Accrington in League One and, despite some injury problems, scored eye-catching goals against high flyers Doncaster and Sunderland. He finished with three goals from 11 starts and five sub appearances, W3 D5 L8. See previous rants about Ryan Manning and Bright Osayi-Samuel.
Aramide Oteh came into the first team picture briefly in January, just as he had done the previous season, starting, scoring and playing well at home to Leeds in the FA Cup (that’s how you take a penalty Nahki, wallop). He was also then loaned out, to League One strugglers Walsall, and a record of just four starts, nine sub appearances and one goal (another penalty, in the last minute at home to Southend to make it 1-1) doth butter no parsnips. Big season coming up.
The feeling that perhaps his loan to League One and that of Ilias Chair to Stevenage in League Two were the wrong way around was only heightened by the tiny little Moroccan finding things rather too easy in the bottom tier. To stave off the boredom, he ran his own goal of the season competition, slaying promoted sides Lincoln and MK Dons in the process. Away at Grimsby, the home team couldn’t handle him, and kicked him off the field after he’d bagged a couple of assists – initial fears he’d suffered a serious injury mercifully allayed. He finished with six goals from 16 starts (W7 D5 L4) and his manager claimed he was the best player in the history of the club.
We’ve been here before, 18 months’ ago with Ebere Eze returning from Wycombe after tearing up trees and scoring spectacular goals. It’s exciting to have a player like this, in this form, with the confidence he clearly has, coming back into the squad. It could be like a breath of fresh air, a player of that talent without the baggage of what went on at the end of last season at Loftus Road. The change of manager to one who absolutely adores exactly this sort of little, technical, attacking player to go behind his striker could really work for Ilias. But that excitement and hope must not spill over into hype and expectation, less we go back down a path that leads us to people screaming at him for not running around enough in next April’s inevitable defeat at Griffin Park.
Mide Shodipo has had a bad time with injuries and loan deals. He came back in for a start and three sub appearances at the end of the season, playing quite well off the bench against Nottingham Forest and quite poorly from the start at Sheff Wed. I’ll take some convincing with him, and with Lewis Walker who was John Eustace’s left field choice for a start and three substitute appearances of his own at the back end of the campaign. Nice to see a manager giving youth a chance though, certainly more of a chance than his predecessor did.
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